The Fieldstone Review

The devil's rope

by Miles Knecht

couple of years
before your grandfather was born
I suppose that’s when Holly first fell
onto that fence. Ate shit one day
when the snow was up around her legs
and when she went to get up —
well, there it was.
A tangle of barbed wire
been pulled from its post,
curling up thru the snow and
now thru Holly’s poor red leg.
Gosh, I remember my dad
said they could hear her holler from
over on the other side of the ridge,
two properties over at the Wayne’s.
She screamed & pulled & — well,
she was just a little girl then,
not enough sense to stay put or
take a look at how to get the barb outta her.
She thrashed & writhed, Holly arced
like something electric and that bit
of wire got so wrapped up
in & around thru her
and the snow pooled cherry
round the fence and her little face
never did stop scrunching like a lemon taste,
how hard she screamed
got her stuck that way. Well,
they heard her screaming
but it’s a long walk
out there to the edge
of the old Smith property,
especially during a storm like that
and it took them maybe half the day just to
find her once she stopped yelling.
Ooooh, and
by that point they had to go get the doctor
and really, he was quite busy
with all the folks who’d gone and slipped
on the ice that day
and he’d had enough doctoring
for the week by the time they
pulled up to his house,
so once they’d gotten anyone
out there to see what to do about the wire,
Holly’d been bleeding since last Tuesday.
All the folks been bringing her bits of food,
and I’m sure by then a few fellas
decided she’d been thru enough
to warrant a stiff drink or two
young tho she was,
and by the time doc came
to have a look she wasn’t cold any more
in the dried brown snow what smelled
like a US mint & had men gagging
when they came to offer whiskey.
Well, the doctor came up
to see what could be done
and Holly wasn’t too concerned
I guess,
didn’t even look at the man
when he touched & turned her knee and
when he had to run off & heave
down by the next post, well
I guess more than a few of the men
had already pulled that maneuver.
Now, the doc said
I’d reckon Holly we gotta
take the leg.
And he said it looking at her face
so she’d look at him not down
and she was little thing & a wild one
but still it struck him cold
when she didn’t look a little scared.
She nodded & said I reckon
you sure do,
and old Ginnie Smith thought well
it was her land so it was her responsibility
what went down on it,
and she agreed to sit with them
hold the little girl still.
Someone brought something a little stronger
and they did their best to heat some water
and all that.
But when doc took that toothy creature and
bit her leg, could barely draw blood—
cut down & scraped through her
and it looked like they were getting
somewhere, and I suppose
that made it all the more nervsome
when the saw screamed harsh
against metal, not half-inch
into the poor girls leg.
They tried all around & all angles —
wire up in girl’s leg
bent saw to smithereens.
Doc grabbed his other saw and
tried further up and the wire
was further up.
All the way at her hip, wasn’t nothing
could be done.
they tried cutting the barb
but wire cutters broke
like they were putty and the wire was,
well, it was hard & fast
as the day Ginnie hammered the staples
into the post.
Doc lay down in snow
and said no more.
Ginnie held that girls hand
hard as she could, white
as clean sky skating by,
but Holly didn’t flinch.
The girl said
guess you tried
well good doc, and I’m sorry
to be imposing Gin,
but what can ya do.
Ginnie figured you couldn’t evict a girl
who could no means get up & go,
and anyway, she was right
by the edge of the property so
Gin guessed she wouldn’t be a bother.
The men left their whiskey
and wished Holly the best,
and old Ginnie Smith
tipped her hat & turned tail —
after all
one has responsibilities
of her own and can’t go
taking every little girl under her wing.
Now,
I guess you’ve heard all about
the doctor and how he laid there despairing
in the snow, face in cold wet
until the night fell and the cold got colder.
I suppose we’ve all heard
the sing of saw on barb
when wind picks up,
seen his red face
up against us when
cold stings out in the fields.
I guess he must of pulled his face up
eventually, red from
where Holly had laid
and seeing her thru her
own blood in his eyes they say
he finally screamed & whined
like his saw against metal insides
And well, there are all kinds of stories
about what happened,
but I gotta figure they’re downright old
wives tales or just silly stuff
children tell to get frightened,
as no one saw doc after that
and we got no one to ask
but Holly, and, well.
Once a man joins the whiskey bottles
at your feet
I figure you don’t got much choice
but drink him up,
but that’s just old man’s trying to
make sense of it all.
Well, we kept going up to bring her drink
or two, you know how cold it can get
up there and all,
and she kept thanking us.
Snow melted away slushed into the ground
and Holly’s leg stayed up
in that frayed barbed wire,
grown in and around it and
her other leg stayed by the ground and
well, grass and all that
started grow over it
as it will grow over any thing
that waits long enough.
Holly grew a woman
with I suppose
only the company of cows what
wandered far enough out
& Ginnie every once a moon or two
going round to check make sure
the fence wasn’t broken,
& later Ginnie’s son, you know, Hank,
good boy, & the folks from town
who’d come up the hill with a bottle,
& some of the girls
began to find good luck watering the grass
by leg curled up around
like twisted bark
So they’d trek up with a couple glasses
& a can and look into her
scrunched scream face,
maybe lug up
their folks’ old wire cutters to see
if they could snip Holly free & make a bride
of barb wire beauty.
Now that wire’s mighty dangerous
to handle and it don’t like
getting messed with,
so I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear
that taking blades to fence
never brought nothing but trouble
on those poor young fools,
I mean, even Hank won’t go near the fence
anymore.
It doesn’t rust, posts stay high upright,
from up on that ridge it seems
to go on forever East & West
over scrubby land.
They say Osage Orange don’t grow too well
out here but I say what else you gonna use?
Gonna mess with the devil’s rope
when we of all people know
how deep that spitting snake can gouge?
Huh, fools all around this town.
You lay at Holly’s feet, ask stone woman
what she knows of land, well,
you’ll be singing one thing tomorrow
that’s for sure, that’s all
I can say. One thing for sure
you’ll be singing.